It felt like we walked into a practice of the choral club today at Blanche Ely High School in Pompano Beach. Students were lining up in a formation, singing and moving in a choreographed pattern. But it wasn’t the Glee Club, it was actually social studies in action.
“My job is bridge the arts and our community, create opportunities for students to go out and really express what they think will make a better world,” said Jonathan Martin, the Broward County Public Schools administrator in charge of a new program called Civics Through the Arts.
It’s a collaboration between the school district and the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, designed to teach students about social justice, free speech, and engagement in the issues of the day.
The kids went on a field trip to see Les Miserables at the Broward Center, and were inspired to create their own protest song.
“The whole introduction to this was talking about the artist as an activist, and we explored through history that it’s students who lead these movements and often, there are songs and art, arts are always powerful,” said Tammy Holder, the artist-in-residence at the Broward Center.
Holder helped guide the students as they wrote their piece, and arranged for cast members of Les Miserables to see the kids perform it.
“I’m honestly surprised that I had this much fun during the experience, to be honest,” said Ely student Kaey’shareea Scott, expressing a common viewpoint among her peers who never saw civics as a fun topic.
The school’s principal, Karlton Johnson, said the Civics Through the Arts Program will have a big impact on his students.
“I have to credit their teachers for putting this together, letting the students have the opportunity to create something like this, all about equality,” Johnson said.
Equality among races, socio-economic status, sexual orientation and other divisions. That was the theme of their protest song.
“I look forward to seeing how we can take a small group like this, make it even larger, have a bigger impact, hit many more schools,” Martin said.
So as the kids go through their song, they don’t sound Iike a well-rehearsed chorus, and that’s fine. The point here is the content of what they’re saying, not the quality of the performance. It’s an exercise in becoming involved citizens.
“It was very great to see the different viewpoints of other people because it was like a big group of us,” said Quintoria Sneed, a senior.
“It made me feel like, that, I can have a stronger connection with other people, I’m not the only one that has this dream or this feeling of change,” said Dienal Pittman, also a senior at the school.
If all the world really is a stage, these kids are definitely players.